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July 28, 2008

A Dark Knight Revisited

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MONDAY….

Bleak Knight II,

A Dark Night 4 America… or…?

 

Today’s headline in the NYT’s “The Arts” section got me thinking…

 

Batman Weekend 2: $75 Million, Still Ahead

‘The Dark Knight’, seems to match the national mood.

In the body of the piece, written by Brooks Barnes, we read that “the brooding film, directed by Christopher Nolan, also fits the nation’s mood, Warner Brothers executives said.” This, of course, completely robs the headline of all its potential aphoristic insight, since everybody knows that Hollywood executives are … (How shall I put it?) … insight challenged.

 

But this did prompt me to revisit my late night review, “Bleak Knight”, posted from a Nevada hotel on July 22.

 

I think the Warner people stumbled onto something important.

 

Here’s some context.  This film and its predecessor, “Batman Begins” (an excellent movie, released in 2005) owe tone, spirit and storytelling merit to a brilliant creator of graphic novels, Frank Miller, whose credits include Daredevil, Robocop, the Incredible Hulk, Batman (The Dark Knight Returns), all resurrected in gritty, hardboiled, visually arresting graphic novels that transcended their former “comic book” versions. 

 

Miller is a robust ‘good vs. evil” moralist, the kind who cheers when dirty Harry tells an armed thug who hesitates to surrender, ‘Make my day.”  He has a dyspeptic vision of the current politically correct culture. 

 

A quote: “Mighty cultures are almost never conquered, they crumble from within. And frankly, I think that a lot of Americans are acting like spoiled brats.” 

 

In The Dark Knight, Batman incarnates Frank Miller’s archetypical hero and the people of Gotham City act like… spoiled brats.  Batman is a moral hero unworthy, in this view, of his public, but a man whose core integrity requires him to sacrifice even his reputation for the greater good.  In the movie, we see a crusading DA, an archetypical, square jawed, blow dried hero, brought down by the simpering, sinister Joker, a truly malevolent and talented nihilist.  The transformation of that crusading DA into a monster is ultimately hidden from the ‘people’ when Batman agrees to take on the dead prosecutor’s crimes and flees the police.  

 

If this film captures the country’s mood, does it capture a cynical sense of defeatism (as the dismal poll ratings of the Congress might reveal) or does it expose a tougher core that is willing to give the bad guys hell even if it gets us hated in the bargain?

 

I think the answer is that the country is divided along a moral fracture line; and that the middle group would only be confused by this movie. 

 

We are, as a country, poised on the knife’s edge of a despairing fatalism and renewed, robust recovery of the national self confidence. 

 

If I am right, Batman’s symbolic defeat in fiction mirrors one of those “Tinkerbell” moments in the culture – recalling in Peter Pan how the audience is invited to resuscitate the little fairy by the act of belief. 

 

If we believe, we recover.  If not …..

 

JBG

 

 

 

July 24, 2008

BLEAK KNIGHT - A Review

As posted on

“the Human Conspiracy Blog”

And

“The Policy Think Site” http://www.jaygaskill.com.

Copyright 2008 by Jay B. Gaskill.

law@jaygaskill.com


BLEAK KNIGHT


A Review


I think the Joker killed Heath Ledger.


The Dark Knight is a toxic film - its release without further drastic editing was irresponsible. The silent disappointment of the Batman fans who walked out of the film without waiting for the credits was a warning sign. Heads-up for the producers: This film might even doom the franchise – even if it makes money. Please don't do this again. 'Do what?, you ask...


Whenever a film does as well as this one does in presenting a vivid, compelling picture of naked,nihilistic evil, then endows that evil with almost preternatural power, you need to add a balancing grace and core optimism.


This was a movie with fine performances and no grace.


In the film, the evil Joker, brilliantly portrayed by the late Heath Ledger, sets up a malign 'social experiment' in which the people in two crowded ferries, rigged with explosives, are invited to blow up the other boat before midnight – in order to escape the same fate themselves. When each boat declines to blow up the other, the film presents an opportunity for balancing grace. But that opportunity was one thrown away in the ensuing mayhem.


The end piece, in which the crusading DA, now hideously disfigured, has been successfully degraded by the Joker, attempts a kidnapping, then is killed, amounts to one measure of darkness too much. The film ends with Batman scurrying away, chased by the police for crimes he did not commit.


JBG

July 22, 2008

Obamas and Better Pictures

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Copyright © 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 by Jay B. Gaskill

Permission to publish, distribute or print all or part of this article (except for personal use) is needed. [Permission for use in group discussions is almost always routinely given.]

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 OBO8

OBAMA AND THE BETTER PICTURES

 

“July 22 (Bloomberg) -- Middle Eastern and European leaders are lining up to hear what Barack Obama has to say on his seven- country tour this week. For his presidential campaign, what he says on the trip may not be as important as the photos and videos it produces.”

 

More important than Senator Obama’s photo ops are his conversations with key players in the area and his ability to actually listen and absorb the reality – we are still in a long term war that chose us.  It’s not too late for the senator to adjust his actual policy approach.  I added an addendum to yesterday’s post:

 

July 22 - Policy Footnote: The single most important meeting on Obama’s current trip is with General Petraeus, who by all responsible players in DC is regarded as the genius who rescued Iraq and is now acknowledged by centrist democrats as highly credible.  To the extent that Senator Obama actually listens to the general and adjusts not only his rhetoric but his actual policy approach, the country and his campaign will be better for it.

 

The US remains at war with a jihad directed and coordinated by anti-American elements in the Middle East that share a virulent ideology masquerading as a religion. They fully intend to intimidate moderate followers of Islam and terrorize the secular forces in those countries that they do not fully control. Some of these jihadi elements are embedded in the Iranian and Syrian governments.  The object of this war – declared on us and our friends –  is to destabilize all regimes in the oil producing Middle East, creating openings for Islamist extremist takeovers.  Seen in this light, the Iranian a-bomb ambitions are particularly chilling. Once it is clear that the junior senator from Illinois has absorbed this lesson (if he does), we can all sleep better at night, knowing that his campaign is not for Jimmie Carter’s second term.

 

JBG

July 21, 2008

IS OBAMA WEARING THIN?

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All contents, unless otherwise indicated are

Copyright © 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 by Jay B. Gaskill

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 Note - I hope the winner of the presidential race will meeet the expectations of most of those who vote for him, but I would'nt bet the farm on that prospect.  I have the impression that two decent men are in this race and that, at this point, either might win.  I'm not going to use this space to join either campaign. JBG

 "July 22 (Bloomberg) -- Middle Eastern and European leaders are lining up to hear what Barack Obama has to say on his seven- country tour this week. For his presidential campaign, what he says on the trip may not be as important as the photos and videos it produces."

Posted Monday, July 21.

 

Is Barak Obama Wearing Thin?

 

In politics, images are often more powerful than words, sometimes unexpectedly.  Recall the image of candidate Michael Dukakis on top of a tank during the failed campaign against Bush I – it was a silly moment because the picture simply didn’t fit the moment or the man.  And recall the image of candidate John Kerry windsurfing in a wet suit  during the campaign against Bush II – it was a silly picture because it did fit the moment and the man.

 

Is the junior senator from Illinois a foreign policy/national security lightweight? 

 

His trip abroad has generated words and images.  Is it just my imagination? The images of Obama walking next to the Iraqi and Afghani leaders seemed to diminish him - like a skinny kid playing soldier among the tough guys.  Barak Obama is a very thin man. When dressed up in a loosely fitting suit, highlighting his skinny neck, in the photos placing Barak among hard, swarthy, stocky men, he seemed … out of place.

 

And his face - sometimes so messianic and inspiring to his followers - showed differently in this tough, real world setting. His photographed expressions, especially when disconnected from that famous oratorical speaking voice, were almost ethereal and - dare I suggest it - less than “presidential”. 

 

Yes, I know.  Images are sometimes unfair.  So is life. 

 

But images sometimes accidentally serve as metaphors for uncomfortable truths.  Frankly, on the basis of resume and record alone, the democratic presidential candidate this year is a bit of a foreign policy/national security lightweight.  That a belated, first time international tour to troubled and dangerous conflict zones might highlight a certain lack of gravitas was entirely predictable. Obama’s advisors might have thought of this last year.  Done now, it seemed like a campaign afterthought, a necessary but risky gesture. 

 

I detect a new pattern emerging in the polls, one that suggests that the thin man might have thinning support among the persuadable middle rank of potential voters.  Again I find the daily tracking polls by the Scott Rasmussen group are the most balanced, astute and revealing.

 

Go to Rasmussen at http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/election_20082/2008_presidential_election/daily_presidential_tracking_poll .

 

JBG

July 22 - Policy Footnote: The single most important meeting on Obama’s current trip is with General Petraeus, who by all responsible players in DC is regarded as the genius who rescued Iraq and is now acknowledged by centrist democrats as highly credible.  To the extent that Senator Obama actually listens to the general and adjusts not only his rhetoric but his actual policy approach, the country and his campaign will be better for it.

July 16, 2008

BUT WILL OBAMA WIN?

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All contents, unless otherwise indicated are
Copyright © 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 by Jay B. Gaskill
Permission to publish, distribute or print all or part of this article (except for personal use) is needed. [Permission for use in group discussions is almost always routinely given.]
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BUT WILL Obama WIN?

Link to print version in htm > http://jaygaskill.com/ButWillOBWin.htm 

Rasmussen’s Daily Presidential Tracking poll is probably the most accurate and balanced of all the national polls at this point.  Barak Obama still holds on to a single digit lead over McCain. Go to http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/election_20082/2008_presidential_election/daily_presidential_tracking_poll .

 

The interesting thing about Senator Obama’s campaign is that he appears to have inherited Ronald Reagan’s Teflon effect.  No scandalous revelation has any lasting effect, because his personal likeability quotient insulates him in much the same that worked for the former president. 

 

The junior Senator from Illinois has begun tacking to the center on key issues.  While the process has depressed his lead, almost to a statistical tie, it is clearly a winning strategy.  His own supporters will remain passionate while the nervous middle will be moderately reassured.

 

I have not the slightest idea how the race will come out, but three things strongly operate in Obama’s favor at the moment: (1) He seems to be heading into the Democratic Convention with a stable, though reduced lead; (2) that convention will give him a several point bounce in the polls; (3) Obama clearly wants to win the presidency more than he wants to cater to the left wing of his own party.

 

In the end it will come down to trust. Too close to call…

 

 

JBG

July 14, 2008

WHO Will BELL The CAT?

 

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Copyright © 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 by Jay B. Gaskill

Permission to publish, distribute or print all or part of this article (except for personal use) is needed. [Permission for use in group discussions is almost always routinely given.]

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ObiWHO WILL BELL THE CAT?

A Presidential Candidate Rating Process

By

Jay B. Gaskill


Every open presidential election – that’s every one with two non-incumbent candidates – represents a watershed. Sometimes the outcome makes only a marginal difference in world history, and at other times the outcome is critical. Many wonder whether we are at one of those pivotal junctures in world history, moments of particular consequence like the immediate aftermath of World War II, when events could easily have sheered off in a vastly different direction.


This is one of those times.


Yes, like every previous election, we have two candidates-in-the-making who are … imperfect. Recall that Lincoln, FDR, Truman and Reagan were imperfect candidates for POTUS when they first ran for office and even afterwards. All the presidential candidates were. This is not a good time to “sit this one out”.


I invite you to apply the rating criteria to the two Senators who are campaigning to lead the US. Try to set aside partisan leanings and just see where the results lead.


LINKS to the Piece:


This piece in htm http://jaygaskill.com/BellTheCat.htm

This piece in pdf (W/Graphics) http://jaygaskill.com/BellTheCat.pdf


JBG

July 04, 2008

July 4, 2008


Two Easy Pieces for July 4, 2008

 

The Pledge of Allegiance

By

Senator John McCain
 
As you may know, I spent five and one half years as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. In the early years of our imprisonment, the NVA kept us in solitary confinement or two or three to a cell. In 1971 the NVA moved us from these conditions of isolation into large rooms with as many as 30 to 40 men to a room.

This was, as you can imagine, a wonderful change and was a direct result of the efforts of millions of Americans on behalf of a few hundred POWs 10,000 miles from home. One of the men who moved into my room was a young man named Mike Christian.
 
Mike came from a small town near Selma, Alabama. He didn't wear a pair of shoes until he was 13 years old. At 17, he enlisted in the US Navy. He later earned a commission by going to Officer Training School Then he became a Naval Flight Officer and was shot down and captured in 1967. Mike had a keen and deep appreciation of the opportunities this country and our military provide for people who want to work and want to succeed.

As part of the change in treatment, the Vietnamese allowed some prisoners to receive packages from home. In some of these packages were handkerchiefs, scarves and other items of clothing.  
 
Mike got himself a bamboo needle. Over a period of a couple of months, he created an American flag and sewed on the inside of his shirt.  
 
Every afternoon, before we had a bowl of soup, we would hang Mike's shirt on the wall of the cell and say the Pledge of Allegiance.

I know the Pledge of Allegiance may not seem the most important part of our day now, but I can assure you that in that stark cell it was indeed the  most important and meaningful event.
 
One day the Vietnamese searched our cell, as they did periodically, and discovered Mike's shirt with the flag sewn inside, and removed it.

That evening they returned, opened the door of the cell, and for the benefit of all of us, beat Mike Christian severely for the next couple of hours. Then, they opened the door of the cell and threw him in. We cleaned him up as well as we could.

The cell in which we lived had a concrete slab in the middle on which we slept. A naked light bulb hung in each corner of the room.

As I said, we tried to clean up Mike as well as we could. After the excitement died down, I looked in the corner of the room, and sitting there beneath that dim light bulb with a piece of red cloth, another shirt and his bamboo needle, was my friend, Mike Christian.
He was sitting there with his eyes almost shut from the beating he had received, making another American flag. He was not making the flag because it made Mike Christian feel better. He was making that flag because he knew how important it was to us to be able to Pledge our allegiance to our flag and country.

So the next time you say the Pledge of Allegiance, you must never forget the sacrifice and courage that thousands of Americans have made to build our nation and promote freedom around the world.

You must remember our duty, our honor, and our country

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

 

[][][]

 

Moses Speaks to Harvard
Edited for brevity by JBG

 

The late Charlton Heston gave the following speech to the Harvard
Law School Forum on February 16, 1999.

 

… it struck me: If my Creator gave me the gift to connect you with the hearts and minds of those great men, then I want to use that same gift now to re-connect you with your own sense of
liberty...your own freedom of thought...your own compass for what is right.

 

Dedicating the memorial at a Gettysburg, Abraham Lincoln said of America, "We are now engaged in a great Civil War, testing whether this nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure."

 

Those words are true again. I believe that we are again engaged in a great
civil war, a cultural war that's about to hijack your birthright to think
and say what resides in your heart. I fear you no longer trust the pulsing
lifeblood of liberty inside you...the stuff that made this country rise from
wilderness into the miracle that it is.

 

I've come to understand that a cultural war is raging across our land, in
which, with Orwellian fervor, certain acceptable thoughts and speech are
mandated.

 

For example, I marched for civil rights with Dr. King in 1963 - long before
Hollywood found it fashionable. But when I told an audience last year that
white pride is just as valid as black pride or red pride or anyone else's
pride, they called me a racist.

 

I've worked with brilliantly talented homosexuals all my life. But when I
told an audience that gay rights should extend no further than your rights
or my rights, I was called a homophobe.

 

But I am not afraid. If Americans believed in political correctness, we'd
still be King George's boys - subjects bound to the British crown.

 

Underneath, the nation is roiling. Americans know something without a name
is undermining the nation, turning the mind mushy when it comes to
separating truth from falsehood and right from wrong. And they don't like
it."

 

Let me read a few examples.

 

At William and Mary, students tried to change the name of the school team
"The Tribe" because it was supposedly insulting to local Indians, only to
learn that authentic Virginia chiefs truly like the name.

 

In New York City, kids who don't speak a word of Spanish have been placed
in bilingual classes to learn their three R's in Spanish solely because
their last names sound Hispanic.

 

At the University of Pennsylvania, in a state where thousands died at
Gettysburg opposing slavery, the president of that college officially set up
segregated dormitory space for black students.

 

For me, hyphenated identities are awkward...particularly "Native-American."
I'm a Native American, for God's sake. I also happen to be a blood-initiated
brother of the Miniconjou Sioux. On my wife's side, my grandson is a
thirteenth generation native American...with a capital letter on "American."

 

What does all of this mean? It means that telling us what to think has
evolved into telling us what to say, so telling us what to do can't be far
behind.

 

Before you claim to be a champion of free thought, tell me: Why did
political correctness originate on America's campuses? And why do you
continue to tolerate it? Why do you, who're supposed to debate ideas,
surrender to their suppression?

 

Let's be honest. Who here thinks your professors can say what they really
believe?

 

It scares me to death and should scare you too, that the superstition of
political correctness rules the halls of reason.

 

You are the best and the brightest. You, here in the fertile cradle of
American academia, here in the castle of learning on the Charles River, you
are the cream. But I submit that you, and your counterparts across the land,
are the most socially conformed and politically silenced generation since
Concord Bridge. And as long as you validate that...and abide it...you are -
by your grandfathers' standards - cowards.

 

If you talk about race, it does not make you a racist. If you see
distinctions between the genders, it does not make you a sexist. If you
think critically about a denomination, it does not make you anti-religion.
If you accept but don't celebrate homosexuality, it does not make you a
homophobe.

 

Don't let America's universities continue to serve as incubators for this
rampant epidemic of new McCarthyism.

 

But what can you do? How can anyone prevail against such pervasive social
subjugation?

 

The answer's been here all along.

 

I learned it 36 years ago, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in
Washington, D.C., standing with Dr. Martin Luther King and two hundred
thousand people.

 

You simply...disobey.

 

Peaceably, yes. Respectfully, of course. Nonviolently, absolutely.

 

I learned the awesome power of disobedience from Dr. King...who learned it
from Gandhi, and Thoreau, and Jesus, and every other great man who led those
in the right against those with the might.

 

Disobedience is in our DNA. We feel innate kinship with that disobedient
spirit that tossed tea in to Boston Harbor, that sent Thoreau to jail, that
refused to sit in the back of the bus, that protested a war in Viet Nam.

 

In that same spirit, I am asking you to disavow cultural correctness with
massive disobedience of rogue authority, social directives and onerous law
that weaken personal freedom.

 

But be careful...it hurts.

 

Disobedience demands that you put yourself at risk. Dr. King stood on lots
of balconies.

 

You must be willing to be humiliated...to endure the modern-day equivalent
of the police dogs at Montgomery and the water cannons at Selma.

 

You must be willing to experience discomfort. I'm not complaining, but my
own decades of social activism have taken their toll on me. Let me tell you
a story.

 

A few years back I heard about a rapper named Ice-T who was selling a CD
called "Cop Killer" celebrating ambushing and murdering police officers. It
was being marketed by none other than Time/Warner, the biggest entertainment
conglomerate in the world.

 

Police across the country were outraged. Rightfully so - at least one had
been murdered. But Time/Warner was stonewalling because the CD was a cash
cow for them, and the media were tiptoeing around it because the rapper was
black.

 

I heard Time/Warner had a stockholders meeting scheduled in Beverly Hills. I
owned some shares at the time and decided to attend.

 

What I did there was against the advice of my family and colleagues. I asked
for the floor. To a hushed room of a thousand average American stockholders,
I simply read the full lyrics of "Cop Killer" - every vicious, vulgar,
instructional word.

 

"I GOT MY 12 GAUGE SAWED OFF

 

I GOT MY HEADLIGHTS TURNED OFF

 

I'M ABOUT TO BUST SOME SHOTS OFF

 

I'M ABOUT TO DUST SOME COPS OFF..."

 

It got worse, a lot worse. I won't read the rest of it to you. But trust me,
the room was a sea of shocked, frozen, blanched faces. The Time/Warner
executives squirmed in their chairs and stared at their shoes. They hated me
for that.

 

Then I delivered another volley of sick lyric brimming with racist filth,
where Ice-T fantasizes about sodomizing two 12-year old nieces of Al and
Tipper Gore.

 

"SHE PUSHED HER BUTT AGAINST MY..."

 

Well, I won't do to you here what I did to them. Let's just say I left the
room in echoing silence. When I read the lyrics to the waiting press corps,
one of them said "We can't print that."

 

"I know," I replied, "but Time/Warner's selling it."

 

Two months later, Time/Warner terminated Ice-T's contract. I'll never be
offered another film by Warner, or get a good review from Time magazine. But
disobedience means you must be willing to act, not just talk.

 

When a mugger sues his elderly victim for defending herself...jam the
switchboard of the district attorney's office.

 

When your university is pressured to lower standards until 80% of the
students graduate with honors...choke the halls of the board of regents.

 

When an 8-year-old boy pecks a girl's cheek on the playground and gets
hauled into court for sexual harassment...march on that school and block its
doorways.

 

When someone you elected is seduced by political power and betrays
you...petition them, oust them, banish them.

 

So that this nation may long endure, I urge you to follow in the hallowed
footsteps of the great disobediences of history that freed exiles, founded
religions, defeated tyrants, and yes, in the hands of an aroused rabble in
arms and a few great men, by God's grace, built this country.

 

If Dr. King were here, I think he would agree.

 

Thank you.

 

[][][]

 

amen

 

JBG

July 03, 2008

Conservative Fractures and the Obama Opening

As Published On

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The Policy Think Site: http://www.jaygaskill.com
All contents, unless otherwise indicated are
Copyright © 2005, 2006, 2007 & 2008 by Jay B. Gaskill
Permission to publish, distribute or print all or part of this article (except for personal use) is needed. [Permission for use in group discussions is almost always routinely given.]
Please contact Jay B. Gaskill, attorney at law, via e mail at law@jaygaskill.com

Link to Print Version: http://jaygaskill.com/FracturesObamaOpening.htm 
 

Conservative Fractures and the Obama Opening

 

In earlier posts, I identified some of the populist shortcomings of the liberals, The discussion continues with a reprise of the conservative side. 

 

Until the congressional rout of 06, American conservatism still lived in the lingering glow of a renaissance. In retrospect, that renaissance was a gift from the democrats - the conservatives shone mostly in contrast with the excesses of the left wing activists who control the agenda of the Democratic Party. 

 

The coming election has exposed the widening ideological fractures in the conservative ranks.  This is true even though – as I predicted - the Iraq conflict has been moved to a background issue. 

 

Will the conservatives be able to mount an effective challenge to the democrats?  Will the republicans be able to do so without the enthusiastic backing of the conservatives?  All that depends on the extent to which the conservative and centrist republicans can together recapture their earlier populist momentum. This will require a major retooling, because the earlier momentum was driven by mostly populist rejection of elitist democratic liberals. 

 

And the GOP gravely damaged its populist identification in 2006.  This should not have been a surprise.  The Republican Party has a populist agenda to match that of the democrats (a different tone to be sure) but manifestly not a populist persona.  I’ll skip the details, but the GOP debacle was driven by a popular revulsion at the ruling congressional republicans who were seen “exposed” as phony populists. To understand how this happened we need to review the surfacing cracks in the conservative movement.

 

Clearly, a revulsion at the excesses of the left no longer adequately defines “conservative”.

Conservatism is in trouble because it is not a coherent belief system.  Here is my short list of the conflicts and overlapping sub-movements within the loosely defined conservative alliance:

 

  1. The religious vs. secular conservatives (the latter unconcerned about God in the pledge or the Decalogue in the public square);
  2. The “social” conservatives vs. the “socially tolerant” ones (generating issues like abortion vs. free choice and traditional marriage vs. “new paradigm”);
  3. Public order conservatives vs. the libertarian conservatives (this fuels the drug legalization conflict, among others);
  4. The isolationists vs. interventionists (isolationists went silent when the Trade Towers fell, but returned as the “Why is Israel so important, anyway?” crowd);  
  5. Between the nationalists and internationalists. Frankly, this is a huge potential fracture for both parties.  There are at least three important sub-issues.

(a) industrial policy (of the general type that Ross Perot advocated) to curb outsourcing vs free trade as a matter of faith;

(b) much stricter immigration policies and more robust enforcement vs. leaky borders (and a growing unassimilated alien population);

(c) American economic interests first vs. treaty enforced carbon restrictions.

AND --- A supply side energy independence push vs. adaptation to lower consumption and higher prices.

 

The President Bush first identified himself as a thematic populist political leader when he was the governor of Texas.  Having run an oil company and a baseball team “W” plausibly presented as less patrician and more authentically “blue collar” (if that phrase isn’t already obsolete) than his father.  His first presidential campaign was headed to victory when a last minute revelation of his all-to-cleverly hidden DUI broke.  The aura of inauthenticity nearly cost him that election, and did depress his popular vote below that of Al Gore. 

 

The President’s populist persona reemerged post 911 in the rubble of the World Trade Towers.  It was plain to all discerning observers that on that day and in the company of the firefighters, police and rescuers, “W” was among men like those he had rubbed shoulders with in the oil business and on the baseball field and that he was comfortable.  Everyone in that rubble zone felt that this President was one of them, and that the “SOB’s” who’d done this to our country would be made to pay.  It should have been no surprise when, later, John Kerry’s patrician image proved to be no match.

 

A populist republican president was born in that moment, riding the one issue that trumps the typical republican rap as the party of corporate CEO’s and the country club set: Don’t tread on America.  This issue will always trump the rest provided two conditions are met: (1) the leader doesn’t break trust with the American people and (2) we actually succeed in beating our enemies.

 

For the moment, the fractures on the right were healed and the left was silenced, but there was trouble ahead. Then the Iraqi invasion, popular to the extent it was successful (Americans love winning and hate losing), turned sour, offering the democrats and their many media allies the opening to savage the president’s credibility and competency. It was the poison pill that undercut the president’s fragile populist image.  Add a spectacular misreading of the public mind by the administration on immigration (one – to be fair – that is shared by the democratic left) and the meltdown was irreversible. 

 

The conservative wing of the democratic party was silent, AWOL or in a cemetery in Arlington, VA and that of GOP the was exposed as leaderless, incoherent, cranky and demoralized.

 

There were several populist wedge issues that a new center-right republican candidate might exploit  - think ‘tough on crime, especially vis the death penalty’ and  a credible ‘don’t take away Aunt Tillie’s pistol’. But Obama was given two gifts by the U.S. Supreme Court at the end of its last session.  Its pro-second amendment ruling (District of Columbia vs. Heller)  and the ‘no death penalty for rape’ decision (Kennedy vs. Louisiana) gave the Junior Illinois Senator two opportunities to sound moderate, if not conservative.  He took them.  Granted that Senator McCain is more forthrightly conservative on both issues, but the differences between the two candidates are now nuanced and no longer bright line. 

 

On the energy independence issue, especially the ‘to hell with it, lets push energy supply, including oil’ issue, Obama is still vulnerable.

 

As Barak Obama tacks to the center, he has the opportunity to outflank the Arizona Senator on enough “conservative” issues to depress the turnout of the republican base and to exploit popular discontent without exposing himself to too many sharp policy differences.  At this moment, the democratic nominee is floating on a tide of largely unearned trust (in that Obama is a fresh face with a high ‘you can trust me’ valence, but a shallow track record). That momentum may prove to be enough to win - given the current conservative demoralization.

 

The thematic issues that will still matter greatly and be encapsulated in three phrases:

(a) restoring the credibility of the presidency,

(b) maintaining strong national security in a time of ongoing peril,

(c) common sense over ideology.  

 

The policy issues that will still matter greatly are still very much in play: (1) increasing the U.S. energy supply and independence; (2) keeping the American job machine healthy and robust (3) a safe landing for our troops in the Middle East in the context of regional stability.  On each of these issues, my private anecdotal survey of thoughtful democrats and independents give McCain the opening. 

 

We can be certain of only one thing at this point: that the political landscape in July 2008 will change several times over the next six months. 

But the internal contradictions – within conservatism and between Obama’s slim record in the Illinois legislature and the U.S. Senate and his newly minted centrist persona will remain.

 

A recent posting by Dick Morris estimates that Obama is leading McCain in the critical Electoral College vote (as of July 1) by 269 to 202 when the leaning status is allocated to each candidate.  This reflects the fact that McCain is behind in several key states that Bush won in the last election.  We can be certain that this, too, will change, but that the heavy lifting from here forward is assigned to John McCain…

 

Stay tuned…

 

JBG

 

 

 

 


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